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early planning for NZ South Island trip - please provide feedback

early planning for NZ South Island trip - please provide feedback

Jul 17th, 2017, 02:29 PM
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Thanks again Melnq8 and thank you Lee Ann. Sounds like mid to late April may just be the way to go, but early enough in the month to include a day on the Milford Track before it closes for the season (with the understanding that incremental weather could change my plans of course) and even incorporating Easter weekend for the opportunity to participate in any related festivities. I've enjoyed many a day's hike on a brisk day, and have found them invigorating so not really a concern there unless a track becomes impassable.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Jul 17th, 2017, 02:36 PM
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Thanks again Diamantina. Appreciate all the links as it will be useful as we flush our plans out. Will definitely look to including Wanaka. Right now, Abel Tasman and South Canterbury are not in the plans unless we are able to add days to the itinerary. I'd rather slow down and enjoy the fewer places I visit (and factor in that not everything will go according to plan, whether due to weather or something else) than trying to do too much and risking the entire trip being a blur. Besides, I assume I will be back; this will already be my 2nd trip to your beautiful country.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Jul 17th, 2017, 03:16 PM
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>>>deSchenke, I'd already mentioned the Chinese Amway tourists in my earlier posts in response to tripplanner's question about April-May. <<<

So you did, sorry. There's a lot of information overload on this thread. And I'm really curious how that Amway deal will impact lodging and activities in the area. So far, I have no concrete answers.
deSchenke is offline  
Jul 18th, 2017, 12:02 AM
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Yes, the threads can get long.

I think the Amway tourists will have an impact, but overall not too much, unless others with Hilton points would like to stay at the Hilton at this time, as that's where they will be staying. 500 Amway employees will arrive each week.

To put this into context in May 2017, 119,231 passengers arrived at Queenstown Airport (that's in excess of 29,000 per week). Granted, a few are locals flying back home. This figure represents an increase of 17% over May 2016.

I've read Queenstown already has a critical shortage of hotel/motel rooms/hostel rooms, but during this year's Chinese New Year, some Queenstown rooms were empty, as Chinese tourists opted for more affordable accommodation and activities on offer in Wanaka.

tripplanner, here's a link to Wanaka track transport:
Slow is good. No need to see everything or rush about.
Diamantina is offline  
Jul 18th, 2017, 02:09 AM
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Thanks again Diamantina. Appreciate all the helpful links.
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Jan 7th, 2018, 04:49 AM
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Now that my travels for 2017 are completed, I'm turning my attention to our travels for the upcoming year again. I'm zeroing in on the second half of November 2018 for our trip to New Zealand, focusing on the South Island with the addition of Wellington.

However, after a glorious trip to Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands, we've come to the conclusion that we want more wildlife and specifically penguins, seals, whales, and albatrosses. Our interests has us turn our attention from the west coast to the east - Kaikoura and Dunedin. Are these the best areas for wildlife? Yes, we want to see glaciers too - and hopefully walk on one; I'm thinking we may be able to accomplish it in the Mount Cook area just as well - is this right?

To this end, I'm considering a revised itinerary as follows:

Fly into Wellington
3 nights in Wellington, which would give us whatever is left of the first day to settle down and 2 full days to enjoy the city
Ferry to South Island and continue on to Kaikoura (by train if running, bus if not)
2 nights in Kaikoura, for the whale and dolphin cruises and walks in the area
Bus to Dunedin for 3 nights, from where we would visit the penguins and the albatrosses
Bus to Te Anau for 3-4 nights, from where we would visit Milford Sound and do day hikes
Overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound
Bus to Queenstown for 4 nights
Bus to Mount Cook for 2-3 nights, for day hikes and hopefully a helihike tour to a glacier
Bus to Christchurch for 2-3 nights

Please let me know what you think of this proposed itinerary. Does it make sense given our interests?

Thank you.
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Jan 7th, 2018, 06:31 AM
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triplanner -

Kaikoura is definitely the easiest and most predictable place to see seals - easy as pulling off the side of the road near Ohau Seal Colony and viewing them from the overlook, or walking along the Kaikoura Peninsula. Dolphins and whales too, but that will involve a boat trip, and keep in mind those can be very, very rough.



You can see dolphins from Akaroa too, where the water is like glass and of course the Marlborough Sounds, where the water is also considerably calmer.

Some wildlife experience in Wellie:


Your itinerary looks good given your interests, although Kaikoura to Dunedin is over seven hours in a car, so it's going to be a very long trip in a bus I'd imagine.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jan 7th, 2018, 09:07 AM
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Melnq8, thank you for the awesome feedback. The amount of time it takes to get from Kaikoura to Dunedin is definitely not appealing, especially given the limited amount of time I have overall. Your information about dolphins around Akaroa and in the Marlborough Sounds is giving me food for thought though. Do dolphin watching tours operate out of the Wellington side of the Sounds or would we have to catch it from the South Island side?
tripplanner001 is offline  
Jan 7th, 2018, 02:02 PM
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I'm not aware of dolphin tours from Wellie, but they could well have them, I'm just not particularly well-versed with the NI.

I've been planning my own 29 day return trip to the SI and even after 13-14 visits, I'm finding it difficult to narrow things down!

I'm getting there though.
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Jan 7th, 2018, 02:59 PM
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Melnq8, I understand your situation. It's how I feel about several of my favorite places too. My aim is to enjoy 3 weeks on the South Island enjoying some of the natural beauty and wildlife - and doing some hikes of course - while leaving what we won't get to experience for future trips.
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Jan 7th, 2018, 05:31 PM
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Yes, Kaikoura and Dunedin would be the best place to see the wildlife you seek. And Akaroa, which Melnq8 suggested, is a good place for seeing or swimming with NZ's endemic Hectors Dolphin. Akaroa's also a lovely spot, a village on a pretty harbor that's more sheltered than the open ocean at Kaikoura.

Kaikoura offers dolphin swims (Dusky Dolphins), whale watch trips, and albatross/pelagic bird tours. Kaikoura has a year-round population of sperm whales, but other species are often seen on their whale watching trips.
I wouldn't expect to see too many sperm whales.
The albatross sightings could be better in Kaikoura than the cruises off Dunedin's Otago Peninsula, as Kaikoura's Albatross Encounter chums the water, which attracts the birds. Whereas the Otago Peninsula's Monarch Cruise doesn't chum the water, so you would just have to observe the normal behaviour of these birds.

Without a car, you could observe NZ fur seals at Point Kean at the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway. It's a long walk from the town center but seems like it's be a nice one (I've only driven there). You can stop for a bite to eat on the way back.

The drive from Kaikoura to Dunedin would be 7 hours. I think you might not be able to do this stretch on the bus within one day, and that you might have to overnight in Christchurch, which wouldn't be a bad thing (visit museums, Botanic Garden, etc.). I've taken the bus from Christchurch to Dunedin and it makes for a long day. Another possibility of breaking up this trip is to overnight in Oamaru, which has a Little Blue Penguin colony that's an easy walking distance from the beautifully preserved Victorian town center.

As there are four of you, you might want to contact Oamaru-based Coastline Tours, to see how much a private tour of Moeraki Boulders and Katiki Point Lighthouse would cost.
Coastline Tours also runs a shuttle service between Oamaru and Dunedin.

I can't remember who, but one poster on this forum, took a helicopter flight at Aoraki Mt. Cook (Glentanner, actually) that included a glacier landing, and time for walking around on the glacier. Glentanner is about a 20 to 25 minute drive from Aoraki-Mt. Cook village, so if you'd be staying in Aoraki-Mt. Cook (best place if you plan on walking some tracks), you'd have to find out if the helicopter operator would be including a pick-up from Aoraki Mt. Cook.

I'll offer my suggestions for Dunedin in a separate post and more details about its wildlife.
Diamantina is offline  
Jan 8th, 2018, 02:59 AM
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I found that trip report for you, by phishears, about their Aoraki Mt. Cook heli-hike with www.alpineguides.co.nz/

Here's a link to phishears' trip report:

Wellington's ecosanctuary, Zealandia, is easy to get to without a car, as they offer a free shuttle from near the I-Site (a few block from Te Papa) or from the top of the Wellington Cable Car (which is also near the top of the Botanic Garden).
For shuttle info, scroll down this page.

If you want to avoid that long journey from Kaikoura to Dunedin, and avoid passing through Christchurch twice, consider traveling Wellington-Picton (or not)-Kaikoura-Christchurch-Aoraki Mt. Cook-Queenstown-Te Anau-Dunedin, then fly out of Dunedin. If you fly out Dunedin, get a window seat on the left side of the plane. If the skies are clear, you'll see the Southern Alps and Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo from the air.

In Dunedin, three nights would be good (two full days). Set aside one afternoon for the Elm Wildlife Peninsula Encounters Tour. It takes 6 hours and goes into the evening (dress warmly, bring drinks and snacks). Here's a link for Elm:
Here's a link to reviews of their trip:

You'll be driven out to the Otago Peninsula, taken to Hoppers Inlet to see wetland birds, then to Taiaroa Head to look for Northern Royal Albatrosses, then to a private farm with a large fur seal colony, and a beach with NZ sea lions (the world's most endangered sea lion) and Yellow Eyed Penguins (endangered and declining). You may see a few Little Blue Penguins in nest boxes.

If the weather is fine, you'll be treated to fabulous coastal views, but the weather is often awful in November. This being said, November 2017 was terrific, mostly sunny and dry, many days with temperatures in the high 60s to low 70s (fahrenheit), hardly any wind. This was probably due to La Niña. We had a few awful days, but far less than usual.

Taiaroa Head is home to the Southern Hemisphere's only mainland albatross colony. Normally, albatrosses breed on more remote islands. Endangered Northern Royal Albatrosses started breeding on Taiaroa Head because, being a piece of land that juts out into the sea, it looked like an island to them. With human protection, the colony has grown but it's still small. The majority of this species breeds on NZ's Chatham Islands. The Royal Albatross (Southern and Northern) and the Wandering Albatross are the largest world's largest seabird species. Their wingspans can reach 3.2 metres (10.5 feet).

The Elm will take you to a spot where you can see the albatrosses flying above the colony. They are more active on windy days as they need wind for lift-off. If you'd like to visit the viewing hide in the Albatross Centre, you'll have to pay extra, but you might be disappointed as there will be no chicks around at this time of year. The chicks will have fledged by November, but you may see adult birds sitting on nests and younger birds visiting the colony. Also, I find the Albatross Centre tour that includes a viewing of Fort Taiaroa, established 100 years ago to counter the threat of invasion from Tsarist Russia, most interesting.

Taiaroa Head is also home to a Little Blue Penguin colony, Pukekura Blue Penguins. They swim onto Pilot's Beach, which is below the albatross colony on the harbor side. If you'd like to see these penguins, you'd need to book a tour that would include transportation to and from Taiaroa Head.
Reviews for Little Blue Penguins Pukekura:

Yellow Eyed Penguins are solitary, anti-social, very rare and in decline so you won't be seeing large groups of them. There are only about 250 nesting pairs on the South Island and around Stewart Island. The majority of this species breeds on NZ's Subantarctic Islands. They swim ashore in the late afternoon. In November, there should be chicks around. Sometimes adults swim ashore during the day to feed the chicks.
More about Yellow Eyed Penguins:

Little Blue Penguins are the world's smallest penguin. They were common in NZ but now considered at risk and declining. They are more social than Yellow Eyed Penguins and swim ashore in groups, known as "rafts." In Akaroa/Banks Peninsula and on Motunau Island 65 km north of Christchurch, these penguins have white flippers. They swim ashore in the early evening, as the last light is on the horizon.

The Otago Shag is another endangered species you can see at Taiaroa Head. They construct very interesting nests. which you can see on this link.

I mentioned you'll see critically endangered NZ Sea Lions on the Elm tour. The majority of NZ Sea Lions live and breed on the Subantarctic Islands. But in 1993, a female sea lion nicknamed 'Mum' had her pup on an Otago Peninsula beach. This was the first sea lion born on the mainland in over 100 years. Now, more than 150 sea lions live on the mainland, and the Otago Peninsula averages 4 new pups born each year, almost all related to 'Mum'.

You might also be interested in the Monarch Cruise or Penguin Place. Orokonui Ecosanctuary is worth a visit, but hard to get to without a car. Dunedin's city center also has some interesting attractions, such as the Railway Station, Saturday morning Farmers Market, Toitu Settlers Museum, Dunedin Art Gallery, Baldwin Street, Botanic Garden (NZ's oldest), two breweries, heritage architecture, street art, and much more. You'd probably enjoy the Otago Museum, which has fine natural history displays and a planetarium.
Diamantina is offline  
Jan 8th, 2018, 03:03 AM
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Oops, spelling error, that Hoopers Inlet, not Hoppers Inlet.
Diamantina is offline  
Jan 8th, 2018, 03:53 AM
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Diamantina, wow! Thank you so much for this wealth of information. I definitely have some thinking and sorting to do, although it's a good problem to have.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Jan 8th, 2018, 03:43 PM
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tripplanner001, you might see Fiordland Crested Penguins on you Doubtful or Milford Sound cruises as their breeding season is between July through November. About Fiordland Crested Penguins (Maori name, tawaki):

Bottlenose dolphins are often seen on the overnight cruises of Doubtful or Milford Sound (both actually fiords). These are among the southernmost populations of this species and their numbers are in decline.

Fur seals are commonly seen lazing about on rocks near the entrance of Doubtful Sound, on the Nee Islets.

I've taken the bus from Te Anau to Dunedin (on the morning following my Doubtful Sound overnight cruise), and it's not a bad trip. They stop briefly in the small agricultural town of Gore, so you can get out and stretch, grab a cup of coffee or snack. This journey takes an hour and a half less time than the bus journey from Christchurch to Dunedin, and the scenery is more pleasant, rolling hills, farmland, as opposed to the bustling roadway between Christchurch and Oamaru.

If you decide to visit Dunedin, consider staying at St. Clair Beach. It's quieter, less busy than the city center. Its Esplanade is home to a hotel, a motel, a few holiday rentals, and several restaurants. There's a convenience store selling groceries, beer, wine, and with a post office a few blocks away. The beach is 2 miles long and in November you might see a sea lion or two sleeping on the sand. At low tide, it's good for walking. If you enjoy swimming laps, there's an open-water heated saltwater pool at the end of the Esplanade (this pool first opened in 1884). Sunrises from the beach can be spectacular. By car (or taxi), it's only a 12- to 15-minute drive to the city center but there's also a bus that goes to the Octagon, Otago Museum, Botanic Garden, Baldwin Street and close to most other city attractions. It used to take 15 minutes but now takes 30 minutes (it now sits longer at each stop). The St. Clair Esplanade looks like this:
This is what the sunrise looks like when skies are clear (not my photo, just found it online now)

The Tunnel Beach Track, about a 10 to 15 minute taxi ride from here, is worth walking on clear sunny day (it's steep but beautiful). The fare shouldn't be too bad split among 4.

Dunedin calls itself "the wildlife capital of New Zealand" and many of us--though unfortunately not all--treasure our local creatures and will go out of our way to accommodate them. Here's a recent example:

Dunedin is also about to open a wildlife hospital supported mainly by private donations:
The city is home to the Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust, the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust, Project Kereru (which rescues and rehabs NZ's native pigeon) and Forest & Bird's Fairy Prion project.
Diamantina is offline  
Jan 8th, 2018, 04:43 PM
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Diamantina, again, thank you SO very much. While I am aware of wildlife being present on the South Island and have certainly come across whale watching advertisements in Kaikoura during my research, I hadn't no idea the quantity and the variety until recently. One of the expedition guides on our Antarctic cruise lives in Dunedin and alluded us to the number of penguin species alone.

Right now, we are looking at a maximum of 21 nights on the ground. Knowing we will need at least double - if not triple - the amount of time we have on this trip to include our priorities, we are further narrowing our foci to maximize our time in each place. After all we want to enjoy the places we visit and leave room for the unexpected moments.

Our last draft itinerary is as follows:

Christchurch, 3 nights
Punakaiki, 1 night
Franz Josef Glacier, 2 nights
Wanaka, 2 nights
Queenstown, 4 nights
Te Anau, 3 nights
Dunedin, 3 nights
Oamaru, 1 night
Kaikoura, 2 nights
Wellington, 3 nights

The itinerary puts us at 24 nights, I know. I'm hoping for some help trimming some. Among my thoughts on options are:
- Eliminate Kaikoura and Oamaru and fly between Dunedin and Wellington, which would remove the long road trip
- Reduce the number of nights among Wanaka, Queenstown, and Te Anau. We like to hike and enjoy the mountains, but how similar are the three areas?
- Remove Punakaiki and Oamaru and take one night off of Christchurch, Queenstown, or Wellington

By this exercise, I already have ideas on what a return visit will look like.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Jan 8th, 2018, 05:37 PM
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Unless you plan on making a day trip to Akaroa, I'd cut a night from Christchurch. Because apart from Wellington, which is a very appealing and attractive city (in my opinion), it sounds like you're not mainly interested in exploring cities. Two nights in Wellington might be enough as well, as the city center is compact and extremely walkable. You could start your day at Te Papa (open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.), spend a couple of hours here, when finished, walk along the waterfront to the I-Site, catch the free shuttle to Zealandia, visit for a hour or two here, then catch the 3:30 p.m. free shuttle from Zealandia to the Cable Car, then take the Cable Car back down to the CBD or walk down to the city via the Botanic Garden. It's a beautiful garden. Here's a link to a map of it:

Kaikoura to Oamaru would be still be a long bus ride, if you can do it in "one go" at all. As I mentioned before, you might have to overnight in Christchurch.

So Aoraki Mt. Cook is out but West Coast is back in?

3 to 4 nights in Te Anau does seem long, but you're planning on doing the Doubtful Sound overnight trip, and on another day doing Milford Road, Milford Sound and a walk on the way. There is a company that offers a small coach tour that combines Milford Road drive with scenic stops, Milford Sound cruise, and the beautiful Key Summit walk. As you won't be driving this sound perfect for you:

"By this exercise, I already have ideas on what a return visit will look like." That's good news that you'll be returning.

That's really something that one of your Antarctic cruise guides lives in Dunedin! What a commute to work!

I'll think more about your itinerary.
Diamantina is offline  
Jan 8th, 2018, 06:10 PM
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Thanks again Diamantina. We do enjoy cities and spend quite a bit of time in them on various trips, but have the impression that the best of NZ is outside of the urban areas. Cutting one night from Christchurch makes sense, which means we would need to lose two somewhere.

From our research, it looks like InterCity offers buses that make Kaikoura to Oamaru or Dunedin possible, with a change in Christchurch; otherwise, we could look at splitting Christchurch between 2 visits although we prefer to do it in one go if possible.

We're going back and forth between West Coast and Mt. Cook and could go with either depending on the rest of the itinerary. The bus routes mean that we would lose Punakaiki and Wanaka if we go via Mt. Cook, but it may give us more time for the other places. Ideally we are looking for day hikes in the mountains and wildlife opportunities.

As for Te Anau, we hope to go tramping and will likely book with Trips and Tramps when we finalize our itinerary and dates. We would stay longer in Te Anau if we had the time given the number of hikes available but we will save whatever we don't do for future visits.

And yes, our guide from Dunedin spends about 3 months on Antarctica-bound expedition ships and the rest of her time working on penguin protection and conservation. Her specialty is the hoiho (spelling uncertain).

Truly appreciate all the advice and information you're giving.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Jan 9th, 2018, 01:46 AM
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I checked the Intercity bus schedule as well. You're absolutely correct. The bus leaves Kaikoura at 10 a.m. arrives CC at 1:10 p.m., then departs for Oamaru at 2 p.m. arriving at 6:10. You'd arrive with enough time to check into your accommodation, then walk over to the Little Blue Penguin colony that night.

Your guide sounds interesting. What a great life. "Hoiho" is the Maori name for the Yellow Eyed Penguin. The DOC page below says hoiho means "noise shouter", referring to their shrill call made at breeding sites.

You'd probably enjoy Stewart Island on a future visit. It's a great place to see South Island birds, particularly kiwi (that can be spotted day or night). Normally these birds are nocturnal.

How about this 24 night itinerary? (without Oamaru) Will you be buying Intercity Flexipasses? Because it seems this also includes rides on their Great Sights buses.

3 nts

Ferry to Picton, bus to Kaikoura
2 nts

2 nts

TranzAlpine to Greymouth, Intercity to Punakaiki
1 nt

Franz Josef
2 nts

2 nts

Mt. Cook
2 nts.
This is more complicated. Intercity to Twizel leaves Wanaka 9 a.m. arrives Twizel 11:14 a.m.: then Cook Connection shuttle to Mt. Cook leaves Twizel 2:45 p.m. arrives Aoraki Mt. Cook at 3:45 p.m. I don't know what you'd do with this long break in Twizel beside have lunch. I see Intercity's Great Sights bus makes a stop in Twizel at 11:24 a.m. before continuing on to Aoraki Mt. Cook, so I don't see why you can't take this connection. You might have to call Intercity to ask about this. If it doesn't work out and you can't get to Aoraki Mt. Cook, then just spend these extra two nights in Wanaka, for a total of 4 nts in Wanaka. Plenty of walks from Wanaka, see: http://alpineconnexions.co.nz/Connex...mping-shuttle/
Here's the link for Cook Connection:

4 nts.
Cook Connection to Twizel, leaves Aoraki Mt. Cook 10:15 a.m. arrives 11 a.m.; then Intercity bus to Queenstown, leaves Twizel at 1:30 p.m. arrives 4:40 p.m. Or you can take the Atomic Shuttle from Twizel to Queenstown as it leaves earlier. If you end up spending 4 nts in Wanaka, you can get from Wanaka to Queenstown on Ritchie's bus. http://www.ritchies.co.nz/wanaka/

Te Anau
3 nts.
Looks like in November there are three early morning direct services from Queenstown to Te Anau that will get you in by 9:45 a.m. at the latest. I'm thinking you might be able to leave for Doubtful Sound directly from Queenstown on the Real Journeys bus and instead of going back all the way to Queenstown, just get off at Te Anau on the morning after the cruise. Otherwise, the Real Journeys bus to the Doubtful Sound cruise dock in Manapouri leaves Te Anau at 11 a.m.
According to Real Journeys Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise FAQs page, they can store one piece of luggage at the Manapouri Visitor Centre.
Fiordland Expeditions also offers an overnight cruise of Doubtful Sound:

3 nts
Fly out from Dunedin

Instead of going to Mt. Cook from Wanaka, you could stick with 2 nts in Wanaka, and go to Aoraki Mt. Cook from Queenstown instead, taking the Great Sights bus from Queenstown, returning two days later on Cook Connection to Twizel, then Intercity to Queenstown.
Diamantina is offline  
Jan 9th, 2018, 01:53 AM
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Ouch, I just re-read your post, you'll have only 21 nts.! I don't know where I got the idea of 24 nts. I guess Aoraki Mt. Cook is out. Maybe one less night in Wellington,too.
Diamantina is offline  

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